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Minnesota Womens Hockey: WCHA Frozen Face-off Preview and Awards Recap

The Gophers will look to try and win the WCHA Frozen Face-off on home ice.

The Gophers will look to stay hot this weekend
The Gophers will look to stay hot this weekend

The Gopher Women's hockey team will host the WCHA Frozen Faceoff this weekend at Ridder Arena.  The Gophers are looking to win their first Frozen Face-off title since winning three in a row from 2012-2014.  Wisconsin won last year's title in Grand Forks.

The first semi-final pits the WCHA Regular Season Champions, and #3 ranked Wisconsin Badgers against the sixth seeded UMD Bulldogs.  UMD make it to the Frozen Face-off after upsetting the third seed Bemidji State in two straight games last weekend.  Wisconsin easily swept Mankato State to advance.

The Badgers are led by WCHA Player of the Year Ann-Renee Desbiens.  The Badger goaltender currently has 18 shutouts on the season breaking the NCAA record formerly held by former Gopher Nora Raty.  Wisconsin is 32-3-1 this season, however two of their three losses came to Minnesota on this same Ridder Arena ice sheet two weekends ago.  Desbeens was also named one of the top three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award given to Women College Hockey's best player earlier this week.  On offense, the Badgers are  led by sophomore Annie Pankowski.  Pankowsi led the Badgers with 55 points including 21 goals on the season.  She is ranked 8th in the nation in points per game.  She was named to the All-WCHA First Team this week along with senior defenseman Courtney Burke.  Wisconsin comes into the game against UMD with a 14-game winning streak against the Bulldogs.

UMD comes in after an upset of Bemidji State this past weekend.    UMD is led by senior goaltender Kayla Black.  Black has a 10-5-1 record this season with a 2.31 goals against average.  Ashleigh Brykaliuk leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 47 points on the season.  The Bulldogs come in with a 15-20-1 record overall this season and are looking to play spoiler.

In the second semi-final the #2 Gophers will play #8 North Dakota.  Minnesota went 2-1-1 against North Dakota this season spliting a pair in Grand Forks before winning and tying the Fighting Hawks 0-0 at Ridder in early February. The Gophers swept Ohio State to advance to this weekends games, while the Fighting Hawks swept St. Cloud State.

Minnesota is looking to win the Frozen Faceoff and lock up the #2 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament.  The Gopher senior class of Hannah Brandt, Amanda Kessel, Milica McMillen, Amanda Leveille, and Brook Garzone are looking to go out on a high note.  They come into the weekend with an overally record of 144-8-6.  Leveille is currently 2nd all time on the Minnesota wins and shutout lists behind Raty, and her 94 wins and 31 shutouts currently rank her 4th all-time in NCAA history..   Brandt is the all-time leading scorer for the Gophers with 279 career points, and trails Jocelyne Lamareux by just six points to become the all-time leading scorer in  the WCHA. McMillen needs just three goals to tie Megan Bozak's Minnesota record of 47 career goals for a defenseman.

The Gophers are led in scoring this season by Dani Camaranesi, Brandt , Sarah Potomak and Kelly Pannek who rank third, fifth, ninth and tenth nationally in scoring this season.  As a team, Minnesota in second in the nation averaging 4.94 points per game.  Their 45.7% power play also leads the nation.

North Dakota enters the Frozen Face-off looking to play spoiler.  They know their only way into the NCAA Tournament is to win the Frozen Face-off title, most likely forcing an NCAA Quarterfinal rematch against the Gophers next weekend.  North Dakota finished fourth in the WCHA this season riding the coattails of Patty Kazmaier top ten finalist goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie.  Amsley-Benxie is 16-10-4 on the season with a 1.59 goals against average.  The Fighting Hawks are led in scoring by Amy Menke who has 40 points on the season.  North Dakota will want to play a low scoring affair and rely on Amsley-Benzie to will them to victory.  As she showed in the 0-0 tie a few weeks ago, that is not out of the realm of possibility.

Both semi-final games on Saturday will be streamed for free on  Free audio is also available on Sunday's Championship game will air live on Fox Sports North.  The Badgers and Bulldogs face-off at 2:07 Saturday, while the Gophers and Fighting Hawks are scheduled for a 5:07 face-off.  The winners will meet Sunday at 2:07.

Meanwhile the WCHA Postseason awards were handed out earlier this week.  The Gophers had five players honored, most notably Sarah Potomak who was named the WCHA Freshman of the Year.  Potomak leads all freshmen in the nation with 49 points, and lived up to the hype after she was named the Preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year.

Three Gophers were named to the All-WCHA First Team.  Dani Camaranesi who led the WCHA in scoring, Hannah Brandt who was #2, and defenseman Lee Stecklein.  Camaranesi's 63 points are good enough for 4th in the nation.  She arguably deserved WCHA Player of the Year, but the voters decided Ann-Renee Desbiens of Wisconsin was just too strong a choice this season.  Brandt was named to the WCHA First-Team for the fourth consecutive season, becoming the first Gopher ever to achieve that feat.

Defenseman Milica McMillen was named to the All-WCHA Second Team, and Potomak somehow could only make the Third Team.  In addition, Brandt, Cameranesi, and Stecklein joined fellow Gophers Sydney Baldwin, Kelsey Cline, Paige Haley, Amanda Kessel; Amanda Leveille, Kelly Pannek, Sidney Peters, Cara Piazza, Nina Rodgers, Kate Schipper, and Megan Wolfe in earning WCHA All-Academic honors.